Charles Burns


Last Look Trilogy

Review by Matthew Nielsen

The Last Look Trilogy (X’ed Out, The Hive and Sugar Skull) by Charles Burns follows a series of events and thoughts in the life of a young and somewhat unconventional artist named Doug, including his memories, fears, and ambitions. It is a surreal story in which the reader is taken back and forth between various points of a timeline, and even an alternate dreamworld. Reality and dreams are shown one after the other, and in which time and events are shuffled. As the story progresses, the mystery gradually dissolves, and by the end, all elements come together.

Burns makes several references to Tintin, such as the cover of X’ed Out bearing a striking resemblance to Tintin and the Shooting Star as well as evidence of Doug reading Nitnit comics in some panels. Burns also makes references to other comics, seen especially during the dream sequences in which the characters becomes stylized and drawn differently from the “real world” of the story.

Unlike the immense black and white intensity of Burns’ Black Hole graphic novel, the Last Look trilogy uses colour. However, Burns doesn’t hold back on detail, and there remain many strong and bold shadows. Burns’ approach to characters, especially the facial expressions (such as characters sometimes leaving their mouth open during a snapshot photo), adds a relatable kind of believability to the whole mixture.

All in all, if you’re interested in a surreal experience with timeline hopping and strong visuals, you might enjoy the Last Look trilogy.

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Black Hole

black-hole-coverReview by Matthew Nielsen

Black Hole by Charles Burns is a story of teenagers, drugs, and an STD called the “Bug,” which gives whoever has it a random physical mutation, anything from small growths on the back to antennae coming out of the forehead. Not your X-Men sort of deal; no superpowers, only deformities.

The story follows a handful of characters who are doing their best to cope with the unforgiving life teenagers have to live. Needless to say, the story gets heavy and brutal at points.

The artwork of Charles Burns is truly fascinating. He’s the sort of artist who works as if he’s drawing with white over black paper, and not the other way around. I have never seen such a beautifully black comic. Some of the panels are so complex that you could sit there for a couple of minutes just trying to work out what is going on, but in the end you discover that everything is right where it should be. The mutations, dreams, and drug trips are all fantastically portrayed; the art really sends you on a visual journey that shakes you up a bit. Good thing it’s a graphic novel because you can take your time with each intense chapter; you can take a deep breath and try your best to work things out.

It is a wonderful book! If you’re ready for a dark mind-bending journey told with rich, clean black artwork, then I strongly recommend you read Black Hole.

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